LONG BEACH - State senators visiting Long Beach City College for an education conference Wednesday were greeted by students protesting the recent elimination of nearly a dozen academic programs.
"My program's being discontinued and I have no idea what I'm going to do next fall," said auto body technology major Angelina Garcia, as she chatted with California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who represents Sacramento. "Is there please something you can do to help us?"
More than half of California's 37 senators visited Long Beach this week for a two-day field trip focusing on the importance career training in education.
After visiting Cabrillo High School in West Long Beach on Tuesday, the bi-partisan group spent Wednesday at LBCC learning about the college's unique partnerships with the Long Beach Unified School District and Cal State Long Beach.
As the senators stepped on the LBCC campus, they were met by more than a dozen student protesters from various programs slated to be dropped this fall. Many of the demonstrators held signs with pictures of the Board of Trustees and LBCC President Eloy Oakley.
Students handed out t-shirts and fliers as several of the senators stopped to talk and listen.
The cuts have affected students like auto body technology major Fred Lamm, 20, who planned on earning a certificate degree from LBCC and starting a career as a mechanic.
Now with the program discontinued, Lamm, a Long Beach resident, will have to find a new program at another community college.
"I never really liked math or English. I like to work on cars. I like to work with my hands," he said. "What are people like me supposed to do? College isn't right for everybody."
The college board in January voted to cut 11 programs, mostly career technical programs, in an effort to offset a $6.4 million deficit.
The programs to be cut this fall include: auto body technology, aviation maintenance, audio production, interior design, welding, automotive technology, real estate, photography, air conditioning/refrigeration /heating, diesel mechanics and carpentry.
Oakley said the student demonstration was an opportunity to give Sacramento legislators a first-hand look at the crisis in funding for community colleges.
California's community college system has seen an $809 million loss in state funding since 2008. LBCC has seen its funding cut by more than $10 million, or 9.7 percent, while at the same time experiencing an increase in demand.
"Unfortunately, our college like every other college has had to deal with four years of severe budget cuts," Oakely told a room full of senators.
"We're offering more than 2,000 less course sections this semester than we did three years ago. We are serving nearly 2,000 students less today than we were three years ago. So the issue becomes how do we focus our resources and our efforts to provide for the greatest need in this community.
While the college has had to make tough choices, Oakley said, LBCC also is taking new and innovative steps in streamlining courses and improving transfer and graduation rates for local students.
Among the efforts, the nationally-recognized Long Beach College Promise offers a tuition-free fall semester at LBCC for Long Beach Unified graduates and guaranteed admission to Cal State Long Beach if they meet the university's minimum requirements.
The college's new program, Promise Pathways, is designed to improve graduation rates through priority registration and orientations for Long Beach Unified students.